What gets us moving

The beginning of the school year and the beginning of the calendar year are typically the times when we take the opportunity to kick off new projects, create new routines, learn new things... Essentially, to start a new chapter of our life, in one way or another.

It´s when we start to move again, when we get in motion, after a holiday break.

But, have we ever thought about what it is that moves us?

The term motivation comes from Latin, motivus, meaning "movement", and it´s the force that pushes us to get moving and achieve what we want. There are multiple theories and explanations about motivation that are really interesting, and I´ll elaborate more in future articles, but today, I would like to focus on one observation originated from NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) on this topic.

NLP primarily consists of identifying patterns in thought and language and working with them to achieve better results in life. In particular, the so-called metaprograms are patterns that point out our natural preferences around getting motivated and performing tasks: for example, some of us are more focused on going "towards" whatever we want to achieve,, while others focus more on moving "away from" whatever we want to avoid (the pattern is called "towards" versus "away from").

This proves very useful when trying to find the best way to motivate ourselves and others, both personally and professionally. What is truly the most important thing for me when I think about this goal or challenge in front of me? Reaching a high level of quality and client satisfaction or making sure there are no problems or complaints? Achieving success or avoiding failure? Attaining pleasure or avoiding pain? Both approaches are completely valid, and one will probably resonate much more with us than the other; it will push us more towards action.

Also, when we´re working with a team or addressing a group of people, it helps to include both approaches to ensure the message sinks in with everybody: "This new app will mark an inflexion point for our product. If we go ahead with the implementation, we´ll be able to multiply our sales and become market leaders; otherwise, we will remain stagnant and our competitors will overtake us".

Other examples of this double reasoning can be seen in some motivational quotes, like this one I have at home for example, which, according to the internet, is attributed to Mark Twain:

Square greeting card with white print on a black background, says "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn´t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." (Unknown)

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

What do you think about these two approaches to motivation? Which one do you identify with most?

Untranslatable words: struggle

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while will know that every now and then, I write about a sentence I find difficult to translate, either from English to Spanish or vice versa (if you´re curious and want to read those articles, you´ll find them under the category called Untranslatable).

Today, I´m not bringing you a sentence, but a word, more specifically, a verb: to struggle.

The Spanish dictionary says struggling can be translated as fighting, confronting or tussling with something. And yes, it´s something along those lines, but with a few more nuances, I think. Maybe because (at least in my head) most times, that "something" is not a physical thing, but a situation or challenge we don´t know how to manage, so we experience some suffering as we attempt to overcome it.

The photo gallery in Wordpress gave me this visual representation of struggle, and I thought it was spot on:

The rope could represent anything, real or symbolic (or imagined!) that we are confronted with, and towards which we feel we have no resources.. I think it´s a really interesting metaphor because the rope as such doesn´t have a life of its own; it all depends on what we do with it: we can keep tangling it more and more until we end up paralyzed, or we can untangle the knots bit by bit, one after the other, and break free. It´s almost as if that fight, that confrontation, that tussle, deep down, was with ourselves.

And here´s a thing I would like to make very clear: this happens to all of us at one point or another, or rather, at many points throughout our lives. It´s a part of life itself. That´s how we learn, how we grow, how we evolve.

One story that often comes up around this topic is that of the butterfly: part of its metamorphosis involves coming out of the cocoon, which takes a huge effort; it´s a real struggle. Anybody looking from the outside would think it´s going to die without achieving it. But the butterfly achieves it. And it has to be the butterfly itself, on its own, because that´s how its wings become strong, to be able to fly. If someone, with all their best intentions, had opened the cocoon earlier to let it out, it would have stayed weak and would not have survived.

Similarly, we all have to follow our own path and experience our own transformations. But do we really need to have such a hard time? Or watch others having a hard time, without helping them? Well, one thing we can do is treat those moments in life like what they really are: phases of growth, completely normal. And yes, we can help, but not by trying to resolve the other person´s problems from the outside, but by respecting their process, and accompanying them so that they can find their own resources and solutions.

I think this quote summarizes it really well; it´s the first cornerstone of co-active coaching:

People are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole.
People are not broken and do not need fixing and have their own innate wisdom on how to live life.

What I mean by this is that, leaving out certain exceptions where there´s a pathology or disorder (in which case it´s necessary to consult a psychiatrist or psychologist), in general, all we need is a bit of time, support and self confidence to overcome the challenges that are put in front of us.

That, and self discovery, lots of self discovery, it always helps 🙂

Whatever is due to happen

Today I´m bringing you a quote I came across a few months ago and really liked; it´s an invitation for us to let go of control a little bit and trust life a more, or at least that´s how I interpret it:

Whoever is due to come, let them come,
whoever is due to go, let them go,
whatever is due to hurt, let it hurt...
Whatever is due to happen, let it happen.

Mario Benedetti

A bit scary, isn´t it? Especially if, like me, you tend to try to control your environment so that things always turn out how you want them to.

But, you know what? Whatever is due to happen is going to happen anyway, so why not relax, enjoy each moment and trust that everything is going to be OK in the long run? Trust that we already have (or can acquire) all the resources we need to face whatever life puts in front of us.

Hey, I´m not saying we should just sit down and wait for life to do everything for us; that´s not the point... The point is having a clear idea of where we want to go and what´s important to us, but without forcing it too much; being open to learning along the way, flowing and adapting as we make progress, so that we can welcome whatever comes instead of getting frustrated because it´s not what we expected.

It´s also about recognizing when something or someone is no longer doing us any good, or they´re simply not helping us grow, and being brave enough to stop clinging to them and let them go so that there´s free space for new people and experiences.

And yes, there will be moments when life hurts a little; that´s unavoidable. But in reality, that´s not what we find hardest; the worst part is the suffering that we add to it, and as I say in this other post, that´s totally optional.

So, do you dare give up control a little bit and let whatever is due to happen happen?

Untranslatable sentences: taking a step back

Today I'm bringing you another one of those sentences that I think work really well in English, and for which I don't have a convincing translation into Spanish: taking a step back.

The literal translation into Spanish would be dar un paso atrás, and it's used in the sense of distancing ourselves from the details of a situation in order to see the whole picture more clearly, and be able to make better decisions.

And what better moment for taking a step back than while enjoying a few days off?

This is a long weekend for us in Ireland, or as they say in Spanish, estamos de puente . My niece Ana and her boyfriend, Javi, are here visiting us (thanks guys!), and we're taking the opportunity to get out of Dublin for a few days, and do touristy things around the West of Ireland.

There's a lot of talk nowadays about the importance of switching off and recharging batteries every now and then, mostly because we are hyperconnected and overworked in our daily lives... I encourage you to go the extra mile, and next time you take a couple of days off, also take a step back and reflect on some of these quotes:

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.

Annie Dillard

Action expresses priorities.

Mahatma Gandhi

Do fewer things. Do them better. Know why you're doing them.

Cal Newport

Sharpening the saw

If you´re into topics like productivity, time management or personal development, I´m sure that more than once you will have read or heard the idea that one must pause to sharpen the saw.

Manual saw making its way through a wooden block

This is how Stephen Covey explains it in his book, Seven habits of highly effective people:

Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.

– What are you doing? – you ask.

– Can´t you see? – comes the impatient reply. – I´m sawing down this tree.

– You look exhausted! – you exclaim. – How long have you been at it?

– Over five hours – he returns – and I´m beat! This is hard work.

– Well, why don´t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw? – you inquire – I´m sure it would go a lot faster.

– I don´t have time to sharpen the saw! – the man says emphatically – I´m too busy sawing!

This metaphor illustrates really well how we often get too deep into the weeds of our day to day tasks and forget to stop every once in a while, first of all to rest, but beyond that, to be able to take a step back, gain some perspective and find more efficient (and more enjoyable) ways to achieve our goals.

Another great example along the same lines is one of those quotes that appear printed on geeky T-shirts, especially dedicated to IT people: Six hours of debugging can save you five minutes of reading documentation.

It´s that well known adage, work smarter, not harder, which we know so well in theory, and we find soooo difficult to put into practice... Maybe it´s partly because our society values super busy people; we associate being busy with being productive, so consciously or unconsciously, we keep looking for ways to stay busy (and then we love complaining about how busy we are, it makes us feel important), Or maybe it´s because it´s easier to stay in the momentum we have created for ourselves (which deep down is nothing more than a comfort zone) than to question the way we´ve always done things, even if there is a benefit hiding behind that.

This habit of sharpen the saw can be adopted at multiple levels and in different formats. For example, this past week at work, I had the opportunity to get together with my team (in person, bonus points!) to take a moment, celebrate what we´ve achieved in the last quarter, and plan the work for the next quarter. This is usual practice in Agile methodologies, and it´s been proven to work really well.

And at a more individual level, we can schedule time every week or month to sharpen our very own saw, and that time will be well invested for sure, I remember that one of my very first managers here in Ireland suggested this to me (thanks David!), and for years I kept a time slot booked for myself every Friday afternoon, when the work of the week was already done, and I would sit down in the canteen/cafeteria with my notebook, look at the trees outside the window, and do lots of reflection and planning, getting my ideas in order... I have to say that I used to get a lot of benefit from that little habit, and now I´m in the process of restarting it again, be it on Friday afternoons or at a different time during the week.

And, given that it´s actually impossible to separate our work self from the rest of our being, this principle goes beyond the concepts of work and personal life, because at the end of the day, each person is a whole self. Stephen Covey proposes four areas where we must sharpen our saw: physical, mental, social/emotional and spiritual.

What about you? How do you sharpen your saw? And now that I think of it, wouldn´t it be easier to explain the metaphor with an axe, instead of a saw? Because I´m not sure how a toothed saw like the one in the photo can be sharpened...

Untranslatable sentences: echao p’alante

Today, in our section on untranslatable sentences, we´ll talk about a very popular colloquial expression from Spain: ser muy echao p’alante.

The Collins Dictionary provides three translation examples for es muy echado p’alante, I hope they make sense to those of you reading this in English:

  • He’s very pushy
  • He’s very forward
  • He’s not backward in coming forward (informal)

To me, being echao p’alante means being brave, in the sense of daring to take the initiative and taking action when faced with certain situations, without fearing ridicule (or maybe fearing it a bit, but without letting that condition them).

Little girl riding on a horse with her hands in the air, seen from behind

My friend Bárbara comes to mind; she served as chairperson of our primary school's Parents' Association for several years, and I remember her one day explaining to me how, every time there was a call for volunteers to organize an event for the school, there were always certain people who threw themselves forward (echar literally means throw), and others who threw themselves back.

I was one of those parents who signed up to help in whichever way I could, but mainly to help, not to lead. I was not the one taking the initiative, I was happy following somebody else's lead. And that's a pattern that's been repeating year after year in many aspects of my life.

So in short, I am not (and never was) particularly echá p’alante... The good news is that now I know that that's part of my personality, more specifically part of my instinctual biases, as opposed to a weakness of character that I have to get over.

According to Mario Sikora's instinctual biases theory, which is taught in conjunction with the Enneagram, our natural instincts as human beings can be grouped in three main domains, the preserving domain (striving for survival, looking after our basic needs, looking after our close ones), the navigating domain (sense of belonging to a group, social relationships with our peers), and transmitting domain (reproduction, spreading our message, leaving a legacy in this world).

Each person tends to have the instincts from one of the three domains a lot more developed than the others, with a secondary domain, and then a third domain that's far less developed. And broadly speaking, we could say that individuals who are strongest in the transmitting domain tend to push forward, given their instinctive desire to transmit, to convince, to make progress. In contrast, individuals who are strongest in the preserving domain tend to pull back more, to try and protect ourselves by keeping a low profile. Individuals who are strongest at the navigating (or social) domain tend to seek balance between what they give and what they receive, expecting reciprocity.

An important point I would like to highlight is that no instinctual bias is better than any other: we need them all, because each of them relates to a particular set of capabilities and strengths, and they all balance each other within the group. We need preservers, navigators and transmitters in our tribe.

For me personally, learning about instinctual biases is helping me a lot to understand my own reactions and behaviours, as well as those of others. But that doesn't mean we can use them as an excuse to continue with our same old ways. On the contrary, it makes us realize that instead of forcing ourselves to do things that are radically against our instincts, we can work with them to our advantage, designing strategies that get us the results we want in a more natural and adaptive way.

In my case, given that my instinctual bias is in the preserving domain, I know I have to pay special attention to the topic of taking the initiative and stepping into action, because those things don't tend to come naturally to me. I use tricks to motivate myself and make progress step by step, without getting exhausted or overwhelmed. And what helps me the most? Phrases like these:

If you don't go after what you want, you'll never have it.
If you don't ask, the answer is always no.
If you don't step forward, you're always in the same place.

Nora Roberts

What about you? Are you one of those who throw themselves forward, or back? What motivation would be strong enough to push you forward?

Starry night

I can´t say that painting is a topic that I´ve always been interested in, or that I´ve dedicated much time to it during my life, but it is true that there are certain works of art that I find especially beautiful (or interesting), and that I´m really fond of.

Among them, there are several pieces by Vincent Van Gogh.

I think this is mainly thanks to a coffee shop that existed years ago in Madrid´s city centre, Van Gogh Café, which my family and I used to visit very frequently, given its lovely atmosphere,, the superb food they offered and the fact that it was located just next to my parents´ apartment. I have very good memories of going to Van Gogh´s when the girls were still little, especially with my parents at lunchtime, and sometimes with the additional company of some of my siblings, siblings in law or nephews and nieces, whoever happened to be in Madrid on those dates. And on a couple of occasions, we also had big celebrations, with the whole family gathered together 🙂

The café was of course decorated with all things Van Gogh, with copies of his best known paintings scattered all over the walls, paper placemats printed with a collection of his many self portraits, and even a reconstruction of one of his scenes, with a real table and two chairs placed next to a big front window. Unfortunately, that venue closed down a few years ago, but the simple style and the vibrant colours of Van Gogh´s paintings stayed in my memory since then.

That´s why I was so happy when I recently got to see some of his paintings at the National Gallery, in London, including the one with the sunflowers (or to be precise, one of them, as he painted several canvases with the sunflowers theme), the chair you can see above, and this landscape with clouds that I didn´t remember seeing before, and that I also found quite cool:

Pero el que se lleva la palma en mi opinión es el de la noche estrellada, a la que hasta Lego le ha hecho un homenaje, y que también es uno de los cuadros estrella de la exposición interactiva (o como la llaman oficialmente, «la experiencia inmersiva») que hemos visitado este fin de semana en Dublín:

I loved learning a bit more about the life and works of this great painter, who was gifted with very deep sensitivity and an extraordinary talent, both of which sadly came together with a great deal of suffering, as it often happens in the world or artists.

There were several of his quotes that I found really inspiring, like for example:

«Si oyes una voz dentro de ti que dice que no puedes pintar, entonces adelante, pinta,,y esa voz será silenciada.»

«Las grandes cosas no se consiguen por impulso, sino a base de ir enlazando una serie de pequeñas cosas»

«El corazón del hombre se parece mucho al mar: tiene sus tormentas, tiene sus mareas, y en sus profundidades también hay perlas.»

«¿Qué sería de la vida si no tuvéramos el coraje de intentar nada?

Y también me acordé de que hace años alguien le compuso una canción preciosa, «Vincent», aquí la tenéis con la letra en inglés y en español:


There have been a few moments this week when I have felt a little uncomfortable.

Nothing serious, only a bit of discomfort when facing situations outside my usual day-to-day. They were somewhat tense moments (inside my head, at least), in which I didn´t know what to do or say in order to avoid making a mistake, and I felt clumsy and incompetent, a bit like a fish out of the water.

Outside my comfort zone.

But also this week, interestingly, I heard an analogy that worked wonders in making me change my perspective.

Discomfort is something that we naturally tend to avoid, as we find it unpleasant, whether it´s related to a physical sensation or any other kind of uncomfortable feeling, like in certain social situations.

But for example, when we´re practicing a sport, what we´re doing is essentially subjecting our body to a certain degree of discomfort during a set period of time, with the goal of developing our muscles and making them stronger. And bit by bit, with perseverance, our body gets used to it, and becomes capable of doing that exercise more and more easily and with less and less effort.

It´s very clear that if we stay lying on the couch, our muscles are not going to develop. In a similar way, we could argue that our social "muscles", as well as our skills and abilities in general, develop through experiences that are a bit uncomfortable, as those are the ones that move us, challenge us and encourage us to learn.

Because, let´s be realistic: when we feel a hundred percent comfortable, it´s because we´re not learning at all...

A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.

John Assaraf

I remember that before moving to Ireland, I was not used to feeling cold at all, and I found it really hard. Then as years went by, I acclimatized, and nowadays, it´s not that I enjoy being cold or anything like that, but that sensation that I used to find so uncomfortable in the past is not such a big deal now, I find it much more bearable. Why? Because at some point I decided to stop avoiding feeling cold at all costs, and I allowed myself to feel a bit of the cold and confirm that it wasn´t the end of the world and that I could still function normally. Now I believe I´ve freed myself from having to always keep an ideal temperature.

Bringing the same reasoning back to the situations I mentioned at the start, thankfully now I know that feeling uncomfortable for a few minutes is not the end of the world. On the contrary: it´s an opportunity to become aware and notice (myself as well as around me), flex "muscles" I probably didn´t even know I had, and trust that at the end of it all, I will have learned something new.

What about you, what makes you feel uncomfortable? And what is that discomfort trying to teach you?

Do what you can

It´s been a week already in 2023; we are slowly returning to normal life after the winter celebrations... And maybe the excitement we felt a few days ago, at the beginning of the year, is starting to fade away.

All those plans we were so excited about, all those new year's resolutions, may feel a bit uphill to us right now... In fact, in Spain there's a saying, I'm not sure if it exists in other countries: "la cuesta de enero" (January's "hill" - the word "cuesta" refers to both "hill" and something that's difficult, costly). It alludes to the difficulties we face sometimes during this month, often in terms of money (after spending a lot at Christmas), but I would say also emotionally, given that celebration time is now over and we return to the cold and monotonous winter time.

Wooden steps ascending through a rocky field, under a grey cloudy sky

Apparently, January is the month when many people start planning their next holiday, in order to have something to look forward to. Yesterday I happened to walk by a travel agency, and was really surprised by the queue of customers!

What I'm trying to say is that this time of the year may feel a bit hard to us, especially if we have a goal or objective that still seems very far away and we don't feel that we're making enough progress.

I'm the first one currently in that situation: I have a few enhancements and other things planned for BinaryWords, and here I am, watching the days go by much faster than the progress I'm making with the project... In my opinion, as I've pointed out in the past, the key is finding a sustainable pace, which in my case translates to finding the balance between being patient with myself and giving myself a little kick. Resting and looking after my well-being, of course, as well as carving out time to do things I like, but also motivating myself even when I don't feel like it, and assigning reasonable tasks to myself every day or every week; otherwise, it's very easy for me to stay in my comfort zone and not move.

Speaking of, I´m happy to report that I have finally started a mailing list through Mailchimp. You can subscribe here to receive the weekly post in your email inbox, and get updates about new things coming up. If you´re already subscribed you don´t have to do anything, I´ll add you to the new list, and hopefully, you´ll start receiving emails in a slightly nicer format 🙂 And if you see any problems, please let me know so that I can fix them, I´m still learning (and I still need to investigate how to make the emails bilingual without having to write it all twice...)

Anyway, getting back to our topic, I encourage you to have patience with your goals and objectives for this year, especially during this month of January, and also to keep making progress at a pace that allows for your self-care but doesn´t allow you to make excuses 😉

And I´m finishing today with one of my favourite quotes of all times, which you can apply to any situation, including this one:

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Theodore Roosevelt

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas! To all of you who celebrate, be it as a religious festivity or simply as an occasion to enjoy spending time with your loved ones.

Christmas tree leaves close up with lights, golden stars and golden bauble

Either way, I hope you're having the opportunity to do something different, as well as rest and recharge batteries now that we're getting closer to the end of the year.

And with the new year, new things will come to BinaryWords! For the moment, let me leave you with a phrase I saw yesterday in a Christmas market stall here in my home town, it read something like...

Living is like riding a bike: in order to maintain your balance you need to keep moving forward

UPDATE: after writing this post I learned that the quote is by Albert Einstein, and its wording is slightly different: it mentions moving, doesn't say in which direction. But I say, given that we have to move, why not moving forward?